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Every one looked toward the door, at which appeared the imposing figure of the Centaur, serious-looking and frowning; embarrassed by his anxiety to salute the company politely; savagely handsome, but disfigured by the violence which he did himself in smiling civilly and treading softly and holding his herculean arms in a correct posture.
"Come in, Senor Ramos," said Pepe Rey.
"No, no!" objected Dona Perfecta. "What he has to say to you is an absurdity."
"Let him say it."
"I ought not to allow such ridiculous questions to be discussed in my house."
"What is Senor Ramos' business with me?"
Caballuco uttered a few words.
"Enough, enough!" exclaimed Dona Perfecta. "Don't trouble my nephew any more. Pepe, don't mind this simpleton. Do you wish me to tell you the cause of the great Caballuco's anger?" she said, turning to the others.
"Anger? I think I can imagine," said the Penitentiary, leaning back in his chair and laughing with boisterous hilarity.
"I wanted to say to Senor Don Jose—" growled the formidable horseman.
"Hold your tongue, man, for Heaven's sake! And don't tire us any more with that nonsense."
"Senor Caballuco," said the canon, "it is not to be wondered at that gentlemen from the capital should cut out the rough riders of this savage country."
"In two words, Pepe, the question is this: Caballuco is—"
She could not go on for laughing.
"Is—I don't know just what," said Don Inocencio, "of one of the Troya girls, of Mariquita Juana, if I am not mistaken."
"And he is jealous! After his horse, the first thing in creation for him is Mariquilla Troya."
"A pretty insinuation that!" exclaimed Dona Perfecta. "Poor Cristobal! Did you suppose that a person like my nephew—let us hear, what were you going to say to him? Speak."
"Senor Don Jose and I will talk together presently," responded the bravo of the town brusquely.
And without another word he left the room.
Shortly afterward Pepe Rey left the dining-room to retire to his own room. In the hall he found himself face to face with his Trojan antagonist, and he could not repress a smile at the sight of the fierce and gloomy countenance of the offended lover.
"A word with you," said the latter, planting himself insolently in front of the engineer. "Do you know who I am?"
As he spoke he laid his heavy hand on the young man's shoulder with such insolent familiarity that the latter, incensed, flung him off with violence, saying:
"It is not necessary to crush one to say that."
The bravo, somewhat disconcerted, recovered himself in a moment, and looking at Rey with provoking boldness, repeated his refrain:
"Do you know who I am?"
"Yes; I know now that you are a brute."
He pushed the bully roughly aside and went into his room. As traced on the excited brain of our unfortunate friend at this moment, his plan of action might be summed up briefly and definitely as follows: To break Caballuco's head without loss of time; then to take leave of his aunt in severe but polite words which should reach her soul; to bid a cold adieu to the canon and give an embrace to the inoffensive Don Cayetano; to administer a thrashing to Uncle Licurgo, by way of winding up the entertainment, and leave Orbajosa that very night, shaking the dust from his shoes at the city gates.
But in the midst of all these mortifications and persecutions the unfortunate young man had not ceased to think of another unhappy being, whom he believed to be in a situation even more painful and distressing than his own. One of the maid-servants followed the engineer into his room.
"Did you give her my message?" he asked.
"Yes, senor, and she gave me this."
Rey took from the girl's hand a fragment of a newspaper, on the margin of which he read these words:
"They say you are going away. I shall die if you do."
When he returned to the dining-room Uncle Licurgo looked in at the door and asked:
"At what hour do you want the horse?"
"At no hour," answered Rey quickly.
"Then you are not going to-night?" said Dona Perfecta. "Well, it is better to wait until to-morrow."
"I am not going to-morrow, either."
"When are you going, then?"
"We will see presently," said the young man coldly, looking at his aunt with imperturbable calmness. "For the present I do not intend to go away."
His eyes flashed forth a fierce challenge.
Dona Perfecta turned first red, then pale. She looked at the canon, who had taken off his gold spectacles to wipe them, and then fixed her eyes successively on each of the other persons in the room, including Caballuco, who, entering shortly before, had seated himself on the edge of a chair. Dona Perfecta looked at them as a general looks at his trusty body-guard. Then she studied the thoughtful and serene countenance of her nephew—of that enemy, who, by a strategic movement, suddenly reappeared before her when she believed him to be in shameful flight.
Alas! Bloodshed, ruin, and desolation! A great battle was about to be fought.
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